When and Where to Find Fall Colors
Leaves change color based on several different environmental factors. As such, the times vary from location to location. Most states see color change in October but some see it as early as September with others waiting until November. Lauren Himiak, our National Parks Guide, has a great list of when to expect fall foliage by state.
What Time of Day is Best for Fall Colors
In general, the more direct light the better when working with fall foliage photography. I say this because the brighter the leaves, the more impact your photo will have most of the time. Early morning and later afternoon when the angle of the sun is more pronounced and light is less diffuse around the Golden Hour is a great time for fall leaf photographs.
What Weather/Lighting is Best for Fall Photography
Bright sunshine is a big help with fall photography most of the time. However, just after a rain is a special time for fall photos. The rain washes pollution out of the air, rinses off the leaves, and darkens tree bark. This serves to intensify the colors and clarity of your fall photos when the sun comes out just after the rain.
The brighter leaves of fall can often reflect light much more readily than fresh green leaves. Because of this, fall foliage can often wind up as blown out highlights. Try underexposing about a 1/2 stop. This will not only help prevent overexposing the leaves but will help intensify the colors as well. Also, when working with fall foliage it is a good idea to try different metering methods. Center-weighted average will not work for all scenes just like multipoint metering may not work well for another scene. Test out the different metering methods on your camera so that you are comfortable in finding the right one for the right scene.
Try a Filter
There are several filters that can help you make sure your fall foliage photos pop. A color intensifier filter (yes, that's really what it is called) will bring out the color better. An UV filter will clarify the image by cutting through any haze in the air. A polarizing filter will remove reflections from water surfaces if you are photographing fallen leaves in ponds.
Don't forget about good composition when working with your fall foliage photos. The rule of thirds, natural framing, and point of view are just some of the composition ideas you can use to make sure your photos create visual impact.
Most of you will probably be shooting digital so I want to cover some digital development tips as well here. Just like a negative has to be developed, you need to do some post processing to your digital files rather than expect them to be "done" straight out of the camera.
Check your colors first. Are the reds red or are the red orange? Make sure your
Adjust the exposure. Use the levels feature to adjust the highlights/midtones/shadows as needed.
Crop if you need to. Did you miss noticing a piece of trash in the bottom corner of your composition? Was there one completely blown out highlight near the top of the photo? Use cropping to pull your photo into your preferred print ratio and eliminate accidental inclusions.